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How to choose a sleeping bag

We all know a good night’s sleep is a key factor to enjoying a camping holiday. And we recognize that your sleeping bag is a key component to bedroom comfort that ensures you wake refreshed and ready for the next day’s adventure.

That’s why we go back to basics when designing our products to provide you a wide choice of quality sleeping bags in single and double options to suit all needs. And much of your buying experience will follow our design process as you make your choice of sleeping bag. 

For a start, think about use as this will decide factors like shape and weight of insulation. A sleeping bag designed purely for performance in colder climes will normally taper towards the foot to reduce the amount of dead air that draws away body heat. This mummy shape also reduces weight and packed size. More relaxed camping styles are catered for by rectangular sleeping bags. Also known as envelope style, they provide room to move at night and can often convert into a duvet by undoing a side zip, or even zipped to another bag to create a double from two singles. This provides more flexibility to camping life than a double sleeping bag, but the zip position can cause discomfort.

Developments in hybrid bags sees more relaxed mummy styles add extra space where required, such as at hips and waist, to allow movement for a more comfortable night’s sleep. Some have taken this to the extreme with ovoid profiles that really do allow you to curl up like in your bed at home. 


You’ve decided on profile, now how about insulation? Insulation works by trapping a layer of warm still air between you and the cold outdoors. Down is generally considered to be the ultimate fill as it provides superb insulation while being very light. It compresses to a small size for convenient storage and transportation, and, when released, it quickly springs open (or lofts) to trap a vast amount of air. Box wall construction ensure the fill lofts efficiently and is uniformly spread throughout the bag. Unfortunately, down is very expensive and clumps together when damp to lose its loft and insulation.

A synthetic fill is the most cost-effective and user-friendly option. It is easy to maintain and works even when damp, although it is generally heavier and bulkier than down when packed away. Sheets of the insulation are sewn between the inner and outer fabrics. The thread will compress the synthetic fill and cause cold spots. While this doesn’t matter in a sleeping bag designed for high summer use, it can be a problem in colder weather. An off-set second layer is placed over the first to ensure a uniform depth of fill to get around this in sleeping bags designed for camping late season or in colder conditions. Some sleeping bags also have a second loose outer layer to cover the thread.

However, the latest ball synthetic insulation performs in a similar way to down and it is becoming increasingly hard to differentiate between the two fills. While it offers all the user-friendly benefits of a synthetic, its down-like lofting characteristics substantially reduces weight and packed size. It even shares the same sleeping bag box wall construction to help it loft effectively. Some sleeping bags will use a combination of synthetic and down to enhance positive characteristics while minimising negatives, often in areas that might benefit from a different fill, for instance, down on top and synthetic beneath.

Sleeping bags come in various insulation thicknesses that allow you to tailor warmth to meet needs. To help you choose, we categorise our sleeping bags in two ways.

All our sleeping bags are independently tested to European standards to find their temperature rating. This uses a computer-controlled thermal measurement mannequin that mimics a sleeping human to objectively determine and compare the sleeping bag’s insulation values and temperature limits. The resulting Tcomfort, Tlimit, and Textreme figures are useful when comparing sleeping bags across brands. 

We also supply a season rating to help you quickly assess a sleeping bag. If we rate a sleeping bag 1 season, we consider it for use in summer months only; 2 seasons for use from late spring through to early autumn; 3 seasons for use from spring right through autumn; 4 seasons for use throughout all seasons but more suited to colder conditions.


The fabrics used are vital to performance and comfort. Down bags certainly need a tight weave to stop the loss of its insulating fill, but comfort is key. The inner fabric always benefits from being soft to the skin. High wicking synthetic fabrics help preserve body warmth by removing heat-sapping moisture and modern finishes provide that next-to-skin comfort. Cotton flannel has always been appreciated as an equally comfortable fabric that absorbs moisture until it can evaporate away. It is often the choice for campers seeking home-like comfort levels. Outer fabric also needs to feel nice but should provide hard-wearing, easy-clean, quick-dry characteristics needed to combat the rigours of camping life. 


While some features are helpful, like pockets to keep small items close to hand, others are more important to performance.  Ease of access, insulation and ventilation are all considered when designing a sleeping bag – and should also be factors during purchase. Nearly all, but the most technical, sleeping bags have full length side zips. These should be substantial, anti-snag and self-locking for ease of use, with two-way operation allowing options to open at the feet to cool off when needed.

Zips can compromise insulation, but this is easily rectified by an insulated zip baffle. The provision of a hood offers head protection from the cold and a comfy ‘pillow’ although pillow pockets are often included. Drawcords at hood and insulated shoulder baffles in more performance-orientated sleeping bags will prevent the ‘bellows’ effect of warm air escaping as you move at night. 

Draw cords are one of the chief differences between sleeping bags designed for adults and children that have such features replaced by elastic to prevent accidents. Size is obviously another – the smaller child’s sleeping bag is not only warmer, but it also stops the child experiencing the fear when waking to find they have slipped to the bottom of a large sleeping bag in their sleep. Sleeping bag length is also relevant to those who have smaller frames or above average height. Junior bags and XL versions all help to ensure you find a sleeping bag to suit. 


If you haven’t got a child’s sleeping bag, use an adult size bag adjusted to size by using a belt to close off its bottom half. The belt position can be adjusted as your child grows. Just remember to remove all drawcords to prevent accidents they can easily be replaced for adult use.


While down sleeping bags require special care, synthetic versions are far easier to look after. You can start straight away by sponging off any spills or dirt as soon as they occur. The use of a sleeping bag liner not only adds a little extra warmth on colder nights but can be used as a cover on its own when temperatures rise. And they simply pop into the washing machine when dirty…

A dirty sleeping bag is a tad harder to clean. Few domestic washing machines can handle a sleeping bag given the bulk and weight, and you might have to resort in a trip to the launderette or get it dry cleaned. If you choose the latter method make sure the sleeping bag is well aired before use as the fumes can prove deadly. 

Many campers soak the sleeping bag in the bath, agitating the water and gently treading in a proprietary sleeping bag cleaner to remove dirt – a great way to also wash your feet! Rinse the sleeping bag in plenty of clean water before hanging out to dry thoroughly. 

Try to store your sleeping bag by hanging it up where it can be aired to prevent any musty smell. If necessary, store loose in a mesh bag. When in transit always stuff it into the supplied carrybag (stuff sack) as this preserves the insulation.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Outwell offers a choice of quality sleeping bags designed to keep you and your cosy and comfortable no matter where or when you pitch up for that well-deserved holiday.